Finally! After months of waiting, Briar’s due date is just around the corner! Every year a calf is born on my farm so after 6 years of raising cattle you’d think it’d be old hat by now. But every year the excitement and anticipation seems to build and it’s new all over again. 🙂
Nightly check-ups and afternoon trips out to the field are on the schedule now and every morning I wonder if I’ll find a little miracle in my barn? So far I’ve been disappointed. Briar still has a week left to go before her actual due date arrives but judging from her udder I’d be mighty surprised if she waited till June.
A first-freshener, Briar has everything I’ve been breeding towards these past 6 years which is why I’m so excited! She is compact; at 44″ tall she is easy to manage yet still has a capacious form. She isn’t as dairy as other Jerseys because she has a bit of Dexter in her so she is quite stocky and solid, which I feel is an added bonus on the side of vigor and endurance. Although her udder cleft isn’t as deep as I’d like (she also has pre-calving edema so it makes it harder to appraise) her udder is high, wide and tight which indicates four important traits: strong attachment, more room to produce more milk, a wide rump and a longer lasting udder.
And for us hand-milkers, the longer the teats the better 🙂 Briar’s teat placement is very good: too close (so that the teats look like they are hugging) and it’s really irritating trying to hand milk and impossible to use a milk machine; too wide and it’s just as annoying because it’s harder to reach the teats. Briar’s rear teats are a bit splayed (again, due to swelling) but her front teats are wider than the rears, which indicates good placement.
When I remodeled my barn to have stall designs instead of box pens, I didn’t think about where the new calf would go, and the other day it hit me: I had no separate place to put Briar when she calves! If it’s nice weather and I’m around, she can calve any place she likes – but just in case we have bad weather (like last week it was snowing…and 30 degrees…yup, anything can happen here in the North East) or if it’s the wee hours of the morning, I want to have a safe, secure and warm environment for the calf to be born in. Coyotes are also a factor – while I’ve only seen one once, we hear them howling generally every evening. NOT going to risk my new calf being born outside at night.
So with help from my family I built a temporary maternity/calving pen in my barn. A few days from her due date I’ll lock Briar in this pen at night. It’s spacious, plenty of room to move around and lay down, plus it utilizes the feeding bin from the stalls.
Aside from building the calving pen, I’ve also stocked up on molasses. Molasses contains essential nutrients and B vitamins and acts as an electrolyte, especially when offered during/after times of stress, such as calving. I mix 1-2 cups of blackstrap molasses in 5 gallons of warm water and my cows guzzled it down as fast as I gave it to them. Sometimes I offer them more if I feel they need it, and sometimes they knock over the bucket in irritation.
Probiotic powder is another useful calving item. The stress of calving lowers the immune system and to help Briar stay healthy and recover I’m feeding 2.5 grams of Probiotic powder which contains 6 strains of live bacteria essential to gut health. I top dress her daily scoop of alfalfa pellets with the Probios and kelp meal and she loves it. 🙂
In case of milk fever (which I’m not terribly worried about since I don’t feed grain and over-feeding grain is the leading cause of most milk fever/ketosis cases) I also have some bottles of Oral Cal MPK drenches on hand. It’s always better to be prepared.
Triodine-7 is a must have for calving! To protect against infection, I dip the newborn calf’s navel in this antiseptic solution several times a day for the first few weeks. Triodine-7 quickly dries and sanitizes the navel and I wish I’d had some of this stuff when my calf Mabel was born 4 years ago. She developed an infection in her navel (partly due to the fact that her umbilical cord tore at birth, but also partly because the iodine solution I used on her wasn’t strong enough.)
Last but not least, a calf coat – in case the weather is contrary. May is an unpredictable month – at best it’s a roller coaster of swaying temperatures and moods; sometimes sunny and pleasantly warm and other times you find yourself digging out the turtle-necks you just packed away because you thought winter was over. Calves are pretty hardy, but they are also more susceptible to illness when they’re newborns since their immune systems are still developing. And having dealt with pneumonia in a calf once I’d rather not go through that again. For a dollar and fity cents at my local thrift shop I think my new calf coat is really cute: a red fleece sweater with a sleepy star that says “Sleep tight”. 🙂
Briar getting her afternoon pets and scratches. Can you tell she’s spoiled? 😀